On the evening of Thursday, November 6th, 2014, my husband Mike and I attended a Benefit for Innocence Gala in Downtown Minneapolis-the largest fundraiser of the year for the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN). We were excited to be going for the third year in a row. We rounded up the usual friends and off we went. We look forward to the meaningful connections we make with compassionate people, truly supportive of those who’ve been wrongfully convicted. If ever you believe that life has dealt you a bad hand, you must go to one of these events. They take place across the country. We always leave filled with renewed hope and encouragement that we as a society can promote change within our communities. There’s no way to describe the empowerment that comes with being involved with this organization.
This year’s Gala surpassed our expectations in so many ways. We dined with two memorable young men-Oliver and Zachary. These intelligent best friends recently put together an award winning documentary about a historic Minnesota wrongful conviction murder case from 1859. It involved a woman named Anne Bilansky who was charged with murdering her husband. She was put to death despite a lack of credible evidence. The ten-minute documentary is an overview of the case. It addresses the ethics of the death penalty and the major effect it had on litigation regarding this barbaric practice. As my husband and I watched the film days later, we were amazed at the amount of research these young men did and how well they evaluated the case! They are talented and most likely headed for a great career in film. They stated they are already planning their next one. Here’s the link to this amazing documentary.
I also met the emcee for this Gala, Ted Haller. My good friend, Johnny, made the introductions. “Ted is an attorney/journalist who does feature stories for KMSP Fox 9 news here in Minneapolis,” Johnny said. We both were encouraged by Ted’s enthusiasm and concern in regard to the wrongful conviction issue because we were aware of how many in the media shy away from the controversial subject. We had a great conversation and I was thrilled when Ted talked about the prospect of telling Johnny’s and my story. Ted was, at that time, reading the recent 152-page motion filed by the Minneapolis law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, PA in regard to the wrongful convictions of our men in Wisconsin! He was intrigued.
This year I was invited to participate in the VIP reception by Liz Loeb-the new Executive Director of the IPMN. This meant I was among a few given the opportunity to meet the keynote speaker for the evening in a more intimate setting. This was a first for me and quite an honor. Ted generously offered to make the introductions. When Ted uttered my name I was delighted to hear her response, “Joan, I’ve heard all about you!”
She and I found lots of common ground. She’s an exceptional person and quite inspiring. She exudes sincerity and love and she’s so down to earth. Her story is fascinating and brings insight to a major pitfall of wrongful convictions; eyewitness identification.
This courageous woman had been a victim of a horrible rape in 1984. She was 100% sure of the identity of her assailant. But there’d be a new twist to her life years later when she learned that DNA had ruled this assailant out…
To be continued…